IT has produced Turner Prize winners, acclaimed Biennale and festival shows, popular exhibitions and reams of press and television coverage.

But Scotland’s contemporary visual arts sector, pressured by cuts in local authority funding and the constant, tightening squeeze on state arts funding, is now at a crossroads.

The contemporary visual art world's major representative body, the Scottish Contemporary Art Network (SCAN), is now to launch a new campaign, Art in Action, to “sharpen the minds” of every MSP in the Scottish Parliament about the issues facing visual artists across the country, as well as celebrate their ongoing contribution to wider society.

The issues facing the art scene are, according to a new submission by SCAN to the Culture Committee of the Parliament, at a critical point – it says: “The strength of the sector’s achievement and ambition, however, is not matched by the support provided it. We’re talking about a crisis.”

The campaign is to urge every MSP in the summer recess to engage with at least one aspect of visual art – a gallery, a show, an artist in their constituency, an education project, a painting, sculpture, or other work of art – and share their experience on social media.

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Its aims are to "sharpen minds", and to emphasise the important work artists do outside galleries, shows, and festivals.

SCAN, in the campaign, is highlighting through a series of case-studies, how art goes beyond the gallery, the white space or the artist’s studio, and benefits whole communities.

The campaign, however, comes against a background of rising pressures on the visual arts world, and artists.

The success of the contemporary visual arts world of Scotland in the last 30 years has been extraordinary: whilst far from being the only barometer of any art scene’s success, it is notable that eight winners of the Turner Prize since 1996 have been trained or from Scotland, and a further sixteen have been nominated.

The current winner of that high-profile prize, Charlotte Prodger, a Glasgow-based artist, last week unveiled her new work at the Scotland+Venice show, an initiative which has been staging an independent show at the Venice Biennale since 2003. In Venice, the main UK Pavilion show is by Cathy Wilkes, another lauded artist based in Glasgow.

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Artists such as Douglas Gordon, Karla Black, Nathan Coley, Martin Boyce, Martin Creed, Christine Borland, Jacqueline Donachie, Richard Wright, Susan Philipsz, and Duncan Campbell, among many others - often, but not always, connected to Glasgow School of Art - have been part of the generation of artists who have made Scotland, and Glasgow, a key site for the creation of cutting-edge art.

However, evidence shows that the working life of many, if not most, artists is low paid and precarious: many have to work other jobs to make ends meet – meanwhile, publicly-funded galleries that show and support their work are caught in the public sector squeeze on funding, support, and city rent rises.

The campaign comes before the anticipated publication of the long-awaited National Cultural Strategy of the Scottish Government, which SCAN, a membership body of 130 members led by director Clare Harris, hopes can include some real financial muscle as well as warm words about the importance of culture to Scotland.

She said: “We think that actions speak louder than words.

“For the sector to move forward in confidence and enthusiasm, then support, investment and funding must be increased. We feel that it’s not about simply giving us money to carry on doing what we're doing, but also recognising the massive value and impact that visual arts has in the community. We are a vital ingredient in how people in our cities and the country live: visual art is part and parcel of the Scottish identity, it is part and parcel of well-being and we feel that while the visual arts scene is widely celebrated, we would like to see more concrete funding and investment to give it the support that it needs.”

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She said that the new campaign, which she hopes will result in every MSP noting their encounter with art on social media with a #ArtInAction hashtag, will “challenge decision makers to think differently about art – and to recognise its potential by investing in it.”

In its new submission to the Culture Committee, SCAN paints a stark and potentially picture of the financial pressures on artists, galleries and organisations.

Standstill funding of visual arts bodies, such as galleries, by Creative Scotland, which is operating under its own financial pressures, means that by 2021 there will be a “real term drop in funding of around 15%”.

The paper says: “If this trend continues with the next round of RFO (regular) funding, there is real concern among our members that they will reach breaking point. Standstill will become collapse.”

SCAN say diminishing levels of investment and funding at both local and national level have left the arts infrastructure “in a fragile state with artists’ livelihoods precarious."

Creative Scotland itself is well aware of the limits of its funds, which come in a grant from the Government and through the unpredictable coffers of the National Lottery.

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Its acting chief executive, Iain Munro, recently told MSPs of the Culture Committee that its direct funding package of £63 million – around 0.2% of the Government’s overall budget – is “not in tune with the actual potential here in terms of the creative industries being a growth sector for Scotland”.

The SCAN paper also says that local authorities have to implement some “long term and strategic thinking”, noting recent controversial decisions such as proposed cuts of the funding of Peacock Visual Arts in Aberdeen, and the proposed significant rent rise for Stills photographic gallery in Edinburgh.

Most notably the paper calls for ways to be found to create conditions for fairer income for artists: the average working life for an artist is not attending international shows and festivals, but struggling to find time to create work, and finding spaces to create that work, in between other jobs such as teaching.

A survey by SCAN two years ago, for Creative Scotland's Visual Arts Review, found that the average total income of respondents was £17,526. This dropped to just under £15,000 for those who were self-employed, who were mainly artists. South of the border, a recent report by the Arts Council of England found that two thirds of artists earned less than £5000 in the previous year from their art: only 7% earned more than £20,000.

It was notable then when Ms Prodger won the £25,000 Turner Prize in December, she ruefully noted what she might do with the prize money.

She said: “I’ll live on it. I’ll pay my rent and my studio rent and some bills."

The SCAN submission points to other countries efforts to make life easier for artists: in Canada there are a number of tax deductions for self-employed artists (for items such as work spaces, membership fees and travel) and in Belgium a “small fees scheme” ensures small payments are tax exempt.

Ms Harris said: “At the end of this campaign we like to have raised the heads of a few more policy makers to the value of contemporary visual art in Scotland – in the sector, we know the work we do, often for no money: the bulk of the sector work part time.

“Essentially the sector is extremely well-qualified, extremely dedicated, low paid and precariously employed.

“There are a lot of people on short term contracts. The very nature of arts funding is short term – you have just got the funding for one round and then you have to start thinking about the next application – basic stuff like that.

“It is quite striking: the pressure that everyone is under, from individual artists to directors of arts organisations, to show impact, to show outcomes, to fill in forms and tick boxes, whilst producing the great work that they do.”

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Ms Harris said many MSPs may be surprised by what they encounter this summer.

She said: “I think they will see a stream of work and maybe some people that they didn’t really know existed. I think they will have some myths busted.”

These are things like: we are not a ‘drain on society’. We are not rich, we are not ‘tortured artists working away in garrets’.

“But we are sole traders, we are small businesses, we are collegiate, we work together, we are hard-working and provocative, all these things – and perhaps some people just don’t know this.

“I hope it concentrates some minds, and raises awareness of why the cultural strategy is important."

Nuno Sacramento, the director of Peacock Visual Arts in Aberdeen, backed the campaign and added: "It's really important that politicians and policymakers from all backgrounds have a better knowledge of how valuable a contribution visual art makes to our communities.

"Through art, a creative, free and safe space can be opened up for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to explore new ideas and ways of communicating. It doesn't sit within one box marked 'culture', but impacts on our lives in many different ways, and plays a positive role in our physical and mental wellbeing."

Ruth Ewan, an Aberdeen-born, Glasgow-based artist is working with SCAN to prepare a specially-commissioned artwork for the campaign. It is being produced at Dundee Contemporary Arts Print Studio, and will be revealed later in the summer.

She said: "One question for policy makers is this - what do we value? If we value creativity then that needs to reflected in public policy.

"Artists work really bloody hard and you need to have an energy, perseverance and total unflinching commitment to what you do. But the truth is that it's extremely difficult, at times impossible, to earn a sustainable living from your work. I know many really talented people who struggle and sometimes give up. It's a leaking pipe.

“It's one of the most precarious careers I know." Often artists are not acknowledged as workers at all but there is some great work being done in the sector in Scotland to challenge this, from the Scottish Artists Union and organisations such as SCAN.”

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There are still misconceptions about how artists work and live, she said.

Ms Ewan added: “What we need to do is increase awareness outside the sector here in Scotland of what artists actually do, how they actual work with organisations and communities?

"I think many people are perplexed by this question, perhaps the old fashioned idea of the artist as a singular solitary genius still pervades public and political consciousness, so connecting artists and organisations to policy makers is the next positive step."

Scotland's culture secretary, Fiona Hyslop, is not unaware of the work of artists outside the arts world: this week, in fact, she visited the Delta Studios in Larbert, Falkirk: as well as running classes for adults and children, they take social work referrals, offering a creative outlet to people with physical and mental disabilities.

The final publication date for her government's National Cultural Strategy, which has already been the subject of public and arts consultations, is still unknown.

It is likely to be seen later this year, but it is unclear whether it will come with its own raft of funding packages or policy changes - what is known is that all wings of the Government, not just the cultural policy areas led by Fiona Hyslop, are involved in its progress.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government is making good progress on the National Culture Strategy.

"With so much rich and varied feedback from our consultation, we are working carefully to shape the content, with the aim of publishing later this year."

Ms Harris said she wants more than just enthusiasm expressed in the Strategy, which was published in draft form last year.

She said: “The Culture Strategy [draft] had a lot of great things in it, but we felt that it didn’t really commit to saying ‘we will put the funding in', it is about celebrating the great impact of culture, and it is about celebrating 'isn't culture brilliant', but it doesn’t say 'we will do this, we will invest in this'.”

She added: "SCAN's position is that we need to look more widely and more strategically about how arts are funded, at the national and the local level.

"We have an amazing scene. But I think people feel that is not backed up by support coming from those that have the power, and that's government and those that make the budgets and create the budgets."


The SCAN campaign wants politicians to take note of cultural projects that have impacts outside the arts world.

* The Travelling Gallery was founded in 1978, and has since then brought art and artists to schools and communities in inner cities, suburbs, towns, villages and remote rural areas.

Many of these communities are identified with the highest deprivation in the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. Between 2012 and 2018 it attracted 108,000 visitors, averaged 53 venues a tour, and provided more than 2200 artist-led learning events.

Jo Arksey, learning co-ordinator, said: “Access to contemporary art means different things to different people. For many it is an opportunity to question concepts or mediums they might not have associated with art before. It can make people laugh, feel sad, and encourage discussion across all ages and abilities.”

Gordon Douglas added: “By even slightly rearranging reality for people you allow them to have more understanding of how they can change things. I think the arts have the ability to hold up a mirror to people and allow them to see these things.”

*At the Cherry Road Centre in Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, artists from Artlink Edinburgh’s Ideas Team & Sensory Workshops provide weekly sensory workshops for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities.

Liz Davidson, the manager of the centre, said: "It’s an exploration of human relationships built upon mutual trust and equality. All parties involved are learning and exploring their environment and sensory world, listening and observing together."

Artlink has worked for the last 35 years, within the care system, with artists working in collaboration with people with cognitive disabilities and mental ill health.

A report on the project by Dr Susan Levy and Dr Hanna Young of the University of Dundee found that: "The work of Artlink and Cherry Road recognises that meaningful experiences are achieved through slowly building authentic and genuine connections. Working with the artist inspires creative thinking which motivates to create a ‘safe’ space where all can work together equitably, learning from each other; opening themselves, and those they work with, up to new experiences and perspectives."